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February 12, 2020 by DAVE JACK



I’ve often written about the fact that in my opinion Comrades is made up of 7 little runs.  Stand at the start – and it really doesn’t matter in which batch you find yourself – and think that the finish is about 90km away and it’ll just blow your mind.

Stand at the start however, and think that you only have to run 15 and a half kms as your longest run of the day and you’ll have a completely different feeling!

Think about running 90km before the famous cock crow and before the gun fires (I think it’s a cannon these days) that gets the race started and you’ll be beaten because thoughts of having to run that far and that includes hills like Inchanga (yes it has a serious climb on the Down Run), Botha’s Hill, Cowies Hill and all those other horrible little hills that don’t even qualify to have a name and that are over 50km away from where you are at the start, will mentally destroy you – AND YOU HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED YET! 

I always use the distances that Comrades themselves have between cut-off points as the distance of each of the “seven little runs”. The cut off points for 2020 have been published but remember to keep an eye out for any changes that the organisers may feel are necessary but we can look at them nonetheless as they are not likely to change by very much – if at all.

Please study them in conjunction with the Down Run Route Description 2020 that I gave a month or two ago and which many of you have read.  The reason for this is so that you can get to know where you are and can familiarise yourself with your surroundings close to the cut-off point and therefore the end of each “little run”.



I have written and spoken a great deal about mental preparation for Comrades and I have said on numerous occasions that it is extremely important because without mental strength to go along with the physical preparation you have put in over the five or six months before Comrades and you could be in for a pretty rough day on the 14th of June and here’s just one of the exercises you can do in order to get yourself mentally prepared for the big day.

Obviously there are others and at the beginning of June, I will put those down in an attempt to assist you where I can to make your journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban as pleasant as possible because that, after all, is what I believe it should be.

One of the biggest challenges you have between now and the 14th of June is to train yourself to understand that you are not running 90km but that you are running instead 7 little runs on Comrades day – the longest of which is 15.6km.  I remember the late Don Oliver saying at the Rockies Comrades Panel Talks always that you should cut up your race into “biteable bites and chewable chunks”.  This is exactly the same thing that I’m talking about.

I always did this in my Comrades days and it really does work.

This is not always easy to do though because you will have well-meaning running mates telling you that’s a load of garbage because Comrades is 90km and that’s what you have to run and when they’ve got that firmly in their heads, they’re beaten before they get to the start outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall.  Those same well-meaning running mates will wander round and round the Expo and as Bruce Fordyce says they’ll do the Comrades distance walking aimlessly around Expo and arrive at the start already tired.

They’ll pick up pacing charts designed by someone they have never met and hope the person they’ve never met knows enough about them to get them through! Well here’s a big surprise.  The pacing chart designed by the person who has never met them will never be as good a chart any runner can do for themselves. Nobody knows you better than you!

They’ll pick up route profiles where 90km has been cramped onto an A5 sheet and they will look at it and they won’t feel well at all. They didn’t realise the hills on the Down Run are that steep!

Cramped onto an A5 sheet they are very steep but in reality they are not steep at all and instead of walking aimlessly around expo do a gentle drive over the route a couple of days beforehand and Inchanga doesn’t look as steep as it does on an A5 piece of paper and when you look out over the Valley of 1000 Hills it sure is pretty and you don’t have to waste time on Comrades day looking at it.



By the time you take that gentle drive over the route and whilst some people will tell you not to do it, I think it’s a must, you should know from my route description and the table below where the end of each of your six little runs on the road are.  The 7th one is the FINISH and you should be able to identify each one and you’ll find out just how short each of your runs is.

Including the cut off at the finish at Moses Mabhida Comrades has a total of seven cut off points on the road. Try from my route description to work out where each cut off point is as you are approaching it so that on Comrades day you know where you are.

Each of them is tied to a distance and a time of day.  I say time of day because I think this makes it very much easier to look after your time because it allows you to manage your time using an ordinary wristwatch without having to use a stop watch where you need to have to try to calculate running time which is really not important until you get to the finish.   I understand that the top runners calculate running time but quite honestly, it’s not important for the runner who gets home in 9 hours and slower

Below is the actual Comrades table and as you will see the longest run you will have to do on Comrades Day is the first one to the Lion Park Subway, a mere 15.6km and there is not a single person in the field who has not run that distance plus it’s an easy stretch anyway – if you have looked after yourself from the start.

There are a few dangers of that first little run from the start though. A great deal of it is in the dark so there are dangers of tripping. You are climbing to the highest point between Pietermaritzburg and Durban at Umlaas Road so be aware of that and around you the adrenalin will be pumping including your own and there’s a danger of starting too fast because the front runners will start too fast and the next batch will be dragged along and so will the next and the next and the next and your batch and if you’re a novice you can’t help feeling that you are the only novice in the race because everyone around you seems so strong. Believe me you’re not the only novice and they’re not all that strong either!

Your two longest runs the entire day are a little over 15km each and they’re both in the first half and you don’t have to run anything longer again for the rest of the day.  How cool is that?




Lion Park N3 subway 15,574km 15,574km 02:40:00


Cato Ridge N3 subway 30,276km 14.702km 04:20:00


Drummond 45,91km 15.64km 06:10:00


Winston Park 57,610km 11.70km 08:00:00


Pinetown 68,863km 11.253km 09:30:00


Sherwood 81,312km 12.449km 11:10:00



The final little run from Sherwood to the finish at Moses Mabhida is a mere 8.8km and you have 50 minutes to do that and if you think that’s a big “ask” remember the adrenalin as you get closer to the finish will get you there.

As you finish each little run then forget it. It’s gone forever.  Your focus now is on one thing and one thing only and that’s the one you’re busy with at that time.

Forget about Inchanga and Botha’s Hill if you’re nowhere near them! Why even think about them if you’re nowhere near them. Think about where you are.  

And so you spend your day. You do seven little runs the longest of which is only 15.64km and not one long run of 90.084km.

The other great thing about the seven little runs is that even if you don’t know the route that well and my route description has only helped you to a degree, Comrades helps you even more.  About 1km from the end of each little run they stick up a great big board telling you that you have only 1km to go to the next cut off. What they actually mean is that you have 1km to the end on your next little run. 

Please note that this is just an example and not the actual board from this year’s race.




TIMING CHART (some call it a pacing chart)

Now that you have all this info, you can sit down and plan your Comrades.  My advice is to use a normal wrist watch and the final times shown by Comrades in the table above.  The reason I say that is that a glimpse at your watch at, say 10:20 and you know immediately you look at your PERSONAL pacing schedule that you don’t have to be at Drummond until 11:40. You don’t have to start calculating the number of hours you’ve been running less the number you have still to run.  The less you have to think about on Comrades Day the better. Believe me.  I ran 14 of them wearing an ordinary wrist watch and didn’t ever have a problem and I ran a best time of 8:29 wearing an ordinary wristwatch. Not spectacular I know but not too shabby either.

It also makes it much easier when you are aiming at a specific finishing time.  You start at 5:30am and you want to finish at 2:30pm for that Bill Rowan.  The last thing you need to be doing is trying to calculate when you are just through Pinetown your running pace per km.

I’m 21km out and it’s 12 noon.  That gives me 2 and a half hours to do 21km.  That’s all I need to know and I’m pretty sure I can, even with 60-odd km in my legs because the part from the start to Pinetown has been in an OK time.

Don’t need a fancy stop watch to work that out.



The second aspect of the seven little runs is the part that really hurts.  Let’s face it, Comrades is sore.  It’s sore for everyone. The big trick is to beat the pain as much as possible and the best way to beat the pain is to get to the finish as soon as possible.

The sooner you get to the finish the sooner the pain stops.  It’s amazing. As if by magic, the moment an official at the finish puts a medal in your hand the pain goes away and is replaced by overwhelming joy.  Stiffness is still there but it’s very useful the next day when you walk around the beachfront in Durban wearing your finishers’ T shirt that loudly screams “Look everyone, I did it”, and the looks of admiration are amazing.

Anyway back to getting to the finish as soon as possible.

A couple of years ago after I had been sitting at the side of the road watching runners pass, this popped into my head and I jotted it down and I think it’s so true.

 “The time you waste wasting time on Comrades day could be better spent focusing on ways not to waste time on Comrades day” 

I have written a great deal about how to approach walking so that time isn’t wasted. I have written about time wasted at refreshment stations – and there are 43 of them this year. Imagine wasting even a minute at half of them, and most people waste more than that.  That time has gone and you can’t get it back.  Even that conservative time waste is 22 to 25 minutes, although it could be closer to an hour – gone!

I’ve heard runners complain about how much time they wasted getting across the start line because of the crowds.  On average it takes the runners right at the back about 8 or 9 minutes to get across the start line but that’s not where they lose time.  It’s on the road where it’s lost. 

I’ve watched TV coverage of Comrades in the past and at the top of any nasty hill (and there are some on the Down Run) there was the compulsory TV camera and you will see runners waiting for about 5 minutes for the reporter to speak to them! They are desperate to be on national TV but often, before that happens, the producer crosses back to the studio or to another point on the route that the producer finds more interesting at that specific time.  That’s the way it works in TV so those who wait at a camera and a reporter for their TV debut for the better part of 5 minutes or more have simply wasted that time and didn’t fulfil their dream of being on TV anyway.  All they achieved was a 5 minute slower time in the results and that 5 minutes could mean a medal of a different colour – or worse, no medal at all!

Forget about the TV cameras!  It’s not in the hands of the reporters doing the interviewing anyway.  It’s controlled by a producer you can’t even see and who doesn’t care about you anyway.  He or she has a job to do and that’s to give viewers the best possible product and it may not include you. Don’t waste your time looking for your TV debut. Nobody actually cares!

The physio stations have very helpful young physiotherapists but in most cases the “rub down” they give you, whilst very pleasant does very little other than wave goodbye to another 20 minutes or so of valuable time.

Add all these wasted minutes together and the conservative examples I’ve given you add up to well over an hour but you can bet that it’s more and that’s before you turn your serious walking into a stroll.  9 or even 10 minutes lost at the start vs an hour or more lost on the road!  No comparison.

Remember that the longer you’re out there on the road, the longer the pain lasts and every step you take towards Durban is one less that you have to take and the sooner that Comrades medal is yours.


February 2020


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